Treating Congestive Heart Failure in Hamsters (And Maybe Humans)

In July, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine published a study detailing their efforts to create a gene therapy treatment for congestive heart failure.

The research involved hamsters who have a naturally occurring genetic defect that leads to eventual heart failure in much the same way that congestive heart failure does in human beings. In congestive heart failure, the heart’s ability to pump blood gradually declines. The scientists wondered if there might be a way to restore the heart’s vitality using gene therapy.

Using a virus they delivered a genetic mutation to the hearts of the hamsters that corrected a defect in the gene that regulates the way calcium is cycled through the heart. This sort of problem has been linked to heart failure in human beings. With the mutated gene in place, the hamsters showed a dramatic improvement in the ability of their hearts to pump blood throughout the seven month long experiment.

Having proved the concept in hamsters, the UCSD researchers are now conducting similar experiments on pigs, with human trials likely in the next 12-18 months assuming that the findings in the pigs are as positive as were the results in the hamsters.


Congestive heart failure: Treatment shows success in animal model. Heart Disease Weekly, August 25, 2002.

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